A white paper on educating children with special needs, is to be approved by Ministers “within the next couple of months”, Education Minister Santia Bradshaw has announced.
She told the House of Assembly today that a policy on special needs education has been in draft form for decades, and since taking up office she has set up a committee to complete the document.
Leading off debate on a $175,000 supplement for the Ann Hill School, Bradshaw said there has been an emergence of special units across the schools on the island, and the education system needs to be able to engage children at all levels.
“The approach can no longer be this ad hoc way in which we deal with special needs education and learning difficulties, it has to be an approach where we try to ensure that teachers in particular are trained in special needs education as the norm and not as the exception. Because that is what the Barbadian society now dictates.”
She also stressed the importance of diagnostic testing of children in order to properly identify their learning challenges.
She said: “There was a time when people felt that children who learnt differently should be cast aside; something wrong with the child.
“And we’ve come as a society, I hope, to understand and appreciate more and more, that children across the spectrum learn differently.
“And we have to be able to tailor our educational system to be able to capture the imagination of children generally.
“No child should be cast aside because it is dyslexic.
“No child should be cast aside because it may have any learning challenge.”
She announced that the Ministry of Education has been partnering with the Derrick Smith School and Vocational Centre to secure places for 11 students for the new school year.
Last year, 25 students were accommodated at the purpose-built facility which is run under a public-private partnership.
The $175,000 supplementary for The Ann Hill School which was approved this afternoon, will go towards the construction of external walls, windows and doors, plumbing and electrical and internal finishes. A covered walkway is also to be built to protect the students and teachers from inclement weather. The work is expected to be completed within six weeks, Bradshaw said.
According to the Minister, the first phase of the project was started in April 2017 under the Caribbean Development Bank Education Enhancement Programme.
Bradshaw said: “This initiative was aimed at providing much needed classroom space for the students at that institution.
“At the time, phase one of the basement classrooms was completed back in April 2017 at a cost of $59,962.20. Phase two of this initiative was scheduled for July 2017 to coincide with what has traditionally been known as the domestic summer programme.”
But the implementation was delayed and the CDB subsequently terminated the second phase, the Education Minister said.
“I believe that given the state of play in the country in relation to the demands for special needs places across the plants, the decision has been taken by Cabinet to allow us to complete the civil works component of this particular programme,’ Bradshaw told the Lower House.
The funds were provided for in the financial year 2019-2020, but the allocation has been directed to major repairs on the main building of the St Giles Primary School.
Bradshaw said the Ann Hill School caters to students whom the ministry has been pushing more and more in the direction of technical and vocational studies, giving them the opportunity to be able to widen the scope of qualifications that will allow them to not only be entrepreneurial but certainly to be able to sustain themselves.
“And I believe with the additional classrooms on the site, it will also lend itself to be able to have more CVQ programmes, it also allows for much needed places and the demand for the places that we are seeing and witnessing within the Ministry of Education on a daily basis,” Bradshaw said.